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Hindutva seems to have got new vigour now. The Advisory Board constituted to examine Varun Gandhi’s hate speech and booking under the National Security Act has recommended the withdrawal of the said Act against Vaun Gandhi. (news item here)

The three member panel comprising two retired HC judges Justices S N Sahai and P K Sareen, was understood to have stated in no uncertain terms that the inflammatory speeches made by Varun were not enough to attract the deterrent provisions of the NSA and the action takes was disproportionate to the nature of the alleged crime committed by Varun Gandhi.

But what exactly is this Advisory Board? Who constitutes it ?

Under the National Security Act, Sections 9, 10 and 11 govern the formation of the Advisory Board. Once a person is booked under the NSA, the appropriate government forms the Advisory Board and transfers the case to it. The main function of the Board is to look into the alleged acts and opine if there was sufficient cause for the person to be detained and booked under the NSA. If the Advisory Board opines that there wasn’t any sufficient cause for the detention of such person, the Appropriate government must revoke the order of detention.

The National Security Act governs the arrest and detention of persons acting in any manner prejudicial to the defence of India, relations of India with foreign powers, or the security of India.In Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab, the phrase ‘defence of India’ was construed to mean not only external sovereignty but also internal sovereignty. This, added to the phrase ‘security of India’ might have seemed appropriate to book Varun Gandhi to say that his hate speech might have instigated a riot or harmed the security of the state. The hate speech of Varun can be viewed below,

 

Well, he might want to cut the hands of people from another religion, But surely Varun Gandhi has had the laugh now. The question remained as to whether this speech was sufficient to harm the security of the state or ‘defence of India’. The Advisory Board found otherwise and thus the booking against him under the Act has been revoked against him. He may however, still be booked under the Indian Penal Code for incitement to violence and religious hatred. 

Readers might also want to read earlier news items and posts on this here;

– Varun Gandhi’s Hate Speech and the Law 

– Frame by Frame

– V is for Varun Gandhi…

– Beyond the Law 

 

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Law and Other things and the Indian Express have a series of posts and articles on Mayawati and her understanding of the constitution; the latest being Vinay Sitapati’s article in the Indian Express available here.

In a gist, Vinay argues that while most legal commentators view individual rights as being the core of the Constitution, group identities as mere political concessions, Mayawati subscribes to the inverse idea — of the Constitution being a power-sharing agreement between groups. He also adds that in Mayawati’s view, the provisions for weaker sections were the result of a political compromise.

Perhaps the only politician who is so vocal about the constitution during the times of elections has been Mayawati and we must give the devil her due for that. She also has raised some serious questions that Vinay brings forth but doesn’t go further into. For instance, would we have specific provisions for the minorities if there hadn’t been a political compromise as he puts it ?

Most of the provisions today in the Constitution talk of group rights and identities within the paradigm of individual rights; Articles 15, 16 (reservations), prohibition of untouchability (Article 17), rights to administer minority institutions (Article 30) etc…. They make you think as to whether they would’ve existed even if there wasn’t an Ambedkar in the 1950s being a part of drafting the Constitution. I wasn’t alive back in the 1950’s but the recent examples of South Africa and its struggle for the inclusion for group rights makes me understand that it surely wasn’t an easy thing to attain and incorporate. Readers may read Barbara Oomen’s article here to get an idea of the same.

In the Constitution, we do talk of the individuality of rights. That part III incorporates the civil and political rights that are primarily individual in nature and part IV is to have social and economic rights that are group rights. But having a lot of these group rights in part III for the benefit of minorities is not such a bad thing either. India and now South Africa mark a shift in this traditionalist thinking and perhaps maybe for the better. If the Constitution is a power sharing agreement between groups, then the rights are surely the result of a political compromise. It took 300 odd people sitting for more than 2 years to debate and frame our constitution, in exchange for the discrimination that the dalits had faced and their rights (may be not for a separate state as mayawati argues though) some provisions in Part III may be considered as a compromise to them.

Subhadra sent me an email article about the recent spate of attacks on women wearing ‘western clothes’ in Bangalore. It’s disheartening to read them and ponder on the state of things in this Country.

In this earlier post, I have talked about morality and the Dworkinian conception of harm and the enjoyment of rights. I shall talk about it briefly here and go about an extension of it.

The Dworkinian concept of harm, also called the ‘harm prinicple’ rests on the idea that one should be allowed to enjoy his/ her rights as long as they do not affect the rights of others. First, conceptualized in his article “Do we have a right to Pornography”, it now lays the foundation of any debate on morality. This idea also does away with any role the State may claim to play as the upholder of morality and leaves the choice to the people itself as long as it does not affect others. Reading pornographic magazines and open sexual acts are a few of the examples that Dworkin gives to explain the ‘harm principle’.

More importantly, I saw this principle being applied completely in the context of anti-smoking legislation. It must be noted that the reasoning against smoking in public places is not that it is bad to the smoker itself, but that it harms the passive smoker and thus to discontinue the violation of his rights, the laws have been made. (See Murali Deora v. Union of India, AIR 2002 SC 40). This has also been explained in this previous post of mine here.

On the State being the ‘upholder of morality’ notion; it is sad that the Constitution contains various references [Article 19 (2) and Article 25 ] to morality being a ground for a restriction and it being used in the same manner even though the harm to others may not be evident.  

If this be so, then perhaps Mr Muthalik and the State should lay no claim as regards deciding on what people should wear or Drink.

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Below is Manav’s post on the Pink Chaddi campaing. Interesting read. May not be that legal though.

Where are they, those advocates of human dignity? 

While I am ensconced in Santa Clara, the internet serves me well in providing me with information on what is going on in our motherland. About a week back, all that I heard from home was on the Pink Chaddi campaign.

Initially, it amused me, made me laugh, was interesting. I thought it would be a good cock-a-snook at Those-Who-Are-The-Sole-Custodians-Of-Indian-Culture. Later, I thought more about it. It didn’t seem so funny then.

A few girls were beaten. Beaten badly. At least two of them were hospitalised. For being in a pub. The Hindu right evidently thinks that these women have strayed from the path of Indian Culture and Morality (“Women?” “Drinking?” “India?” Horror!). In fact, it was suggested that these women deserved the beating because they were “getting too close to Muslim men”.

And how did we- the liberal, the elite, the English-speaking (partly) convent-educated react? We, who speak for rights? We, who believe in equality, in human dignity, in the freedom of choice? What did this group of people do?

Decided to send pink underwear to the Sri Ram Sene. That’s all. Pink, because it was “a frivolous colour”.

Well, pardon me for my ignorance. Just what is so frivolous about being beaten up for choosing to go to a pub? What is frivolous about people making your decisions for you? Where you should be, what you should do, who you should “be close to”? Instead of making a rational point, instead of sending a message out saying such harassment is unacceptable, all we chose to do was send undergarments- the equivalent of saying “Nyah-Nyah, losers, you suck. Kiss my ass”.

Indian culture, morality, our notions of religion, are all fast becoming the domain of a set of right-wing reactionaries. Instead of ensuring that such interference ceases immediately, or even engaging them in debate, of trying to get them to see our side of the picture, of asking them what gives them the authority to interfere with our lifestyle, all we do is send them chaddis- thus suggesting that we, the liberals, don’t think their viewpoint befits more than insults, not even when it manifests itself in ways so entirely unacceptable to us.

No one I’ve been able to speak to has given me an answer to this one, let’s hope the comments do.

 

Keeping my feelings against the Death penalty aside, the verdict in the Nithari killings comes as a shock to me. It is not that I thought either of them to be innocent, but the idea of giving the harshest punishment meted out by law to them is what I’d like to question.

Perhaps the best portrayal of the death penalty and why it must be abolished is Albert Camus ‘s essay titled “Reflections on the Guillotine” in Resistance Rebellion and Death. I myself was spellbound when I read that essay and I’d recommend it to all my readers.

After 1981 and the cases of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab and Machi Singh v. State, the death penalty as a form of punishment has now been held to be the exception rather than the rule. To mete out a sentence of death, there must be reasons given by the judge and the circumstances of the case must be rarest of the rare.

The idea of rarest of the rare is also to remove any possibility of the innocence of the accused and that the circumstances of the death were so grave in nature that is called for a sentence of death. It is the former aspect that I’d like to look into more. The gravity of the offence is beyond dispute.

Glanville Williams in The Proof of Guilt, a study of the English Criminal trial wrote that the idea of beyond reasonable doubt conveys the message that any single or meek possibility of the accused not committing the crime must be considered, if not for the guilt then atleast when speaking for sentence. Such factors mitigate the sentence that can be meted out to the accused and the foundations of the English system (now India) rest on such presumptions.

The point that I’d like to put forth is that if the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) gave a clean chit to Mohinder Singh Pandher, then this should have acted as a mitigating factor as to his sentence and he should not have been given the death penalty. What does it say of our criminal system when the judge disregards the report of the investigating authority and pronounces guilt on his own inhibitions of the facts and circumstances ?

Could the judge have been a victim of the pressure surmounted by the media in this case ? Rationality and reason says that Mr Pandher should have been given a sentence of life considering this mitigating factor and not a sentence of death (the guilty being left out of question).

We saw the treatment of such cases in Manu Sharma’s trial, Nitish Katara’s case and now this may possibly be added to the list.

At a time when questions of moral turpitude are being raised all over the country due to the assault on women at pubs in Mangalore, there comes a judgment, that stands out. While defining the contours of law and morality, the Delhi High Court has ruled that there is nothing wrong with a couple kissing in a park and that doing so would not be violative of Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code.

Noting that a public display of affection in the form of kissing does not in any way constitute obscenity and violative of public order, Justice Muralidhar dismissed the charges against the couple as laid down by the police.

Now the question of morality and what kind of perverse acts should be permitted by law has always been a debate. Those in favour of the public display of affection (like myself) turn to Dworkin’s “Do we have a Right to Pornography?” written in his book A Matter of Principle. In the article Dworkin makes a case for the open publishing and distribution of pornographic magazines and states that such an action is based on the society’s conception of individual liberty and privacy. Arguing that there is no harm to the individual himself/ herself with the expression of feelings in such a manner, Dworkin adds that there is no right of the State to tell the individual what to do, especially if it blatantly violates his liberty.

He however adds, that this isn’t the main concern. He states that it is not the expression of such feelings that matter, but the disgust caused to the public at large that is the main cause for concern in regulating such expression. He adds;

“Of course individual liberty would be very restricted if no one was allowed to do anything that any single other person found offensive. … The question is whether the harm to those who find offense would outweigh the desire for all those who wish to do what would offend them ?”

 

Dworkin says that the answer would lie in as to how such acts are perceived in the society at large and the level of maturity that is attributed to it. Regulation must not be such as to hamper the ideal of individual liberty that we hold so dear to ourselves.

Muthalik’s actions in Mangalore, Shilpa Shetty kissing Richard Gere and many other must be looked in the context of individual liberty and not what a third person would perceive of them. There should be nothing wrong with girls drinking in a bar and we must attribute to them that level of freedom. Not doing so, would make citizens lose their respects for Government (Dworkin, ‘Taking Rights Seriously’).

Justice Muralidhar’s decision I would say throws light on this issue and could be compared to Dworkin’s argument.

 

P.S. : I had the good fortune of clerking with Justice Muralidhar in 2007. Ranks amongst my best internship experiences. The judgment can be viewed at the Delhi High Court website.